Gordon Keith, lead funnyman for Dallas’s great cult radio station, Sportsradio 1310: The Ticket has written a column for the Dallas Morning News about the suspiciously widespread habit of mind that supports frequent and often heavy alcohol consumption. It also sparked an accompanying discussion on his radio show, the Dunham & Miller show–being in on the inside joke that is The Ticket is one of the built-in compensations for growing up in the drab Dallas area. It’s really one of the most profound breaches of taboo that I’ve had the pleasure to read. It goes beyond simply reminding people to retain some indefinable level of moderation that staves off both alcoholism and legalism alike. Keith asks tough questions about the human need for alcohol and our cultural inability to question it.
“I got a promotion. Let’s have a drink.
I didn’t get the promotion. Let’s have a drink.
Alcohol is the prescription and the accepted response for all life’s experiences, even opposing ones. Part of this is cultural. But most of it’s human.”
I think Keith is wise to treat alcohol consumption as something other than a deeply ingrained social illness and instead ask why we live in a society that can’t seem to bring itself talk about it. The only time the subject comes up is when someone asks you if he can get you one or alternatively why on earth you just said you don’t want one. Turning down a drink is not the same thing as saying “no, I don’t want fries with that.”
“Not all alcohol consumption is bad, but most of it remains unexamined. How many bad decisions have been made under the fuzzy blanket of alcohol? How many mornings have been salted with the detective work of piecing together the previous night? How many afternoons have been christened with new drinks to swallow old shame? It’s a carousel that some stay on because they think carousels are fun. Maybe they are, but they don’t go anywhere.”
It fascinates me that Keith, a self-proclaimed liberal, has come to train his critical eye on a cultural sacred cow that is only assailed by rural fundamentalists. Here, his locality probably has something to do with it. Keith, like pretty much all Dallas folk over 40, grew up in church, though he is not a conservative. The religion-tinged cosmopolitan environment of the DFW area is the fecund field that allowed this liberal reformist cross-examination of alcohol to sprout, and I think it’s a unique and unusual specimen. It’s just funny it comes from a shock jock radio personality who is best remembered for his crass impersonations of Jerry Jones. This isn’t his first thoughtful column proving he has a mind beyond the potty humor, but I think it is his most important.
It reminds me of an article I wrote for my college newspaper called “The Sacrament of Alcohol” that I decided not to publish because the subject matter was too sensitive for my immediate social group. Keith too, in the radio discussion expresses similar feelings, saying that he told his editor to pull the article if he thought they should. Talking about alcohol immediately sends people back to prudery and prohibition. I think I’m going to rewrite it now that Keith has opened the way again. It should probably involve some examination of the recent craft brewing craze, (which I’m currently inclined to think is a positive thing for the American attitude toward alcohol) but the overriding reality is that alcohol is probably our culture’s most ritually observed social sacrament and it is very difficult to persuasively propose that we loosen our grip on it.